WEEKEND READS

Keeping the gears going, staying open to new ideas, finding common experiential threads in humanity, enriching one's travels or traveling without leaving home; the reasons we read are many. Here are the books our faculty and staff are reading right now.

 
 
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A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYONE WHO EVER LIVED: THE HUMAN STORY RETOLD THROUGH OUR GENES

ADAM RUTHERFORD

"This is a story about you.

It is the history of who you are and how you came to be. It is unique to you, as it is to each of the100 billion modern humans who have ever drawn breath. But it is also our collective story, because in every one of our genomes we each carry the history of our species — births, deaths, disease, war, famine, migration and a lot of sex.

Since scientists first read the human genome in 2001 it has been subject to all sorts of claims, counterclaims and myths. In fact, as Adam Rutherford explains, our genomes should be read not as instruction manuals, but as epic poems. DNA determines far less than we have been led to believe about us as individuals, but vastly more about us as a species.

In this captivating journey through the expanding landscape of genetics, Adam Rutherford reveals what our genes now tell us about history, and what history tells us about our genes. From Neanderthals to murder, from redheads to race, dead kings to plague, evolution to epigenetics, this is a demystifying and illuminating new portrait of who we are and how we came to be." —Publisher’s Note

Who's reading this? Meinir Davies

 
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SILENT SPRING

Rachel carson

"Silent Spring took Carson four years to complete. It meticulously described how DDT entered the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including human beings, and caused cancer and genetic damage. A single application on a crop, she wrote, killed insects for weeks and months—not only the targeted insects but countless more—and remained toxic in the environment even after it was diluted by rainwater. Carson concluded that DDT and other pesticides had irrevocably harmed animals and had contaminated the world's food supply. The book's most haunting and famous chapter, ‘A Fable for Tomorrow,’ depicted a nameless American town where all life—from fish to birds to apple blossoms to human children—had been "silenced" by the insidious effects of DDT.

First serialized in The New Yorker in June 1962, the book alarmed readers across America and, not surprisingly, brought a howl of indignation from the chemical industry. ‘If man were to faithfully follow the teachings of Miss Carson,’ complained an executive of the American Cyanamid Company, ‘we would return to the Dark Ages, and the insects and diseases and vermin would once again inherit the earth.’ Monsanto published and distributed 5,000 copies of a brochure parodying Silent Spring entitled ‘The Desolate Year,’ relating the devastation and inconvenience of a world where famine, disease, and insects ran amok because chemical pesticides had been banned. Some of the attacks were more personal, questioning Carson's integrity and even her sanity." —“The Story of Silent Spring; How a courageous woman took on the chemical industry and raised important questions about humankind's impact on nature.” August 13, 2015, Natural Resources Defense Council

Who's reading this? Kyle Walenga

 
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The spell of the sensuous

david abram

“Philosopher and ecologist Abram writes an absorbing, challenging treatise on the power of written language to separate human beings from their experiential relationship to the nonhuman environment, permitting, in the process, the abuse of nature. Abram contrasts the sensuous relationship between oral indigenous peoples and their surroundings with the physical detachment inherent in an alphabet-based culture such as ours. Oral cultures relate by necessity to the earth and sky, transmitting knowledge through stories that can be adapted to changing circumstances, always attending to the ‘language'‘ of the biotica and inanimate objects. Written language, conversely, demands participation of eyes and ears only, rather than of all the senses, and has become a ‘wholly self-reflexive mode of animism’… Abram presents more contemporary examples of oral indigenous cultures, including the Australian aborigine and the Apache of the American Southwest, who existed by participating in the language of their particular landscapes and who, once forced from these places, lost the basis for coherence in their cultures. It is only through greater responsiveness to their surroundings on this local scale, Abram maintains, that people can effectively address the pressing needs of the planet.” —Kirkus Review

Who's reading this? Alexis Cohen

 
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UNDENIABLE: EVOLUTION AND THE SCIENCE OF CREATION

BILL NYE

"A sweeping tour of the mechanics of evolution from the Science Guy.

‘Science is the way we know nature and our place within it,’ writes Nye, who is open-minded and curious but also someone who likes the best explanations devised by the human project: ‘In science, a hypothesis should not only explain the evidence we have found,’ he writes, ‘it should also make predictions about things not yet discovered....Science is inherently work in progress.’ What kind of evidence do we have about evolution; what kind of dynamic thinking, informed by all we have experienced, can we bring to its understanding? What method of inquiry allows us to advance our understanding? Nye neatly deconstructs the arguments against evolution, from basic mistakes of biology and physics to more cosmological concerns—that the naysayers ‘avoid the exploration of evolution because it reminds us all that humankind may not be that special in nature’s scheme. What happens to other species also happens to us’—and he takes very seriously the problems posed by introducing creationism to school curriculums around the country. While he has no trouble sinking his teeth into the creationists and anti-evolution activists, Nye really takes flight when he is trying to puzzle out how we get here from there or considering the strangeness of sexual selection (‘Consider the peacock, the epitome of costly signaling’). In addition to Darwin, the author examines the contributions of a host of scientists from a variety of disciplines, including biology, geology and genetics. With the smoothness and encouragement that mark his writing, Nye suggests that ‘[t]he only way to get the answers is to keep looking at living things and learning more about the process by which we all came to be.’ Proof positive that evolutionary theory can be popular and inviting." —Kirkus Review

Who's reading this? Meinir Davies

 
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THE UNSETTLING OF AMERICA: CULTURE & AGRICULTURE

WENDELL BERRY

"This book is about culture in the deep, ripe sense: a nurturing habitat. With unwavering focus, Wendell Berry shows what we lost of our real human American potential when we lost our commitment to living well, in place, on the land." —Gary Snyder

“Since its publication by Sierra Club Books in 1977, The Unsettling of America has been recognized as a classic of American letters. In it, Wendell Berry argues that good farming is a cultural development and spiritual discipline. Today’s agribusiness, however, takes farming out of its cultural context and away from families. As a result, we as a nation are more estranged from the land—from the intimate knowledge, love, and care of it.

Sadly, as Berry notes in his Afterword to this third edition, his arguments and observations are more relevant than ever. We continue to suffer loss of community, the devaluation of human work, and the destruction of nature under an economic system dedicated to the mechanistic pursuit of products and profits. Although this book has not had the happy fate of being proved wrong,’ Berry writes, there are good people working ‘to make something comely and enduring of our life on this earth.’ Wendell Berry is one of those people, writing and working, as ever, with passion, eloquence, and conviction.” —Good Books

Who's reading this? Gabriel Cohen

 
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THE WELL-SPOKEN THESAURUS: THE MOST powerful ways to say everyday words and phrases

tom heehler

"If you’ve ever fumbled while trying to use a big word* to impress a crowd, you know what it’s like to* be poorly spoken. The fear of mispronouncing or misusing complex words is real and leaves many of us consigned to the lower levels* of the English Language. The secret to eloquence, however, lies in simplicity—the ability to use ordinary words in extraordinary ways. The Well-Spoken Thesaurus is your guide to eloquence, replacing the ordinary with the extraordinary. While a common thesaurus provides only synonyms as mere word-for-word equivalents, The Well-Spoken Thesaurus is filled with* dynamic reinventions of standard words and phrases.

*lofty word, pretentious word
*know what it is to
*lower reaches, lower echelons
*awash in, instilled with, dense with, rich in” —Publisher's Note

Who's reading this? Meinir Davies (and the 8th Grade)

 
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BEHAVE: THE BIOLOGY OF HUMANS AT OUR BEST AND WORST

ROBERT M. SAPOLSKY

"What makes our species unique is only the tip of the iceberg, while underneath sits a vast reservoir of continuity with other organisms. In Behave, Robert Sapolsky, a well-known neurobiologist and primatologist at Stanford University, ambitiously tackles the whole iceberg rather than obsessing over its little tip.

Rarely does an almost 800-page book keep my attention from start to finish, but Behave is exceptional in its scale, scope, detail, and writing style. It is a fun and informative read, diving with gusto and deep knowledge into nearly every academic controversy related to human behavior. It is also most refreshing after scores of recent books by psychologists and anthropologists that extol the human distinction.

Sapolsky places what makes us special in the wider context of humans as animals with brains that are fundamentally similar to those of other species. It is the first book that does so comprehensively enough to qualify as a guide to human behavior to be adopted as a textbook in courses not just in neuroscience but in the social and behavioral sciences in general.” —Frans de Waal, Science

Who's reading this? Meinir Davies

 
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THE RESURGENCE OF THE REAL: BODY, NATURE AND PLACE IN A HYPERMODERN WORLD

CHARLENE SPRETNAK

"Spretnak's voice is both prophetic and richly intellectual. She challenges the mind, stirs the heart and shames the conscience... [This is a] heartfelt, valiant effort to illuminate the darkness and mend the fractured Spirit." –San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

"In this insightful, beautifully written work, one of America's most important feminist ecological thinkers reflects on the roots of modernity in Renaissance humanism, the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, Spretnak argues that an ‘ecological postmodern ethos is emerging in the 1990s, the creative cosmos, and the complex sense of place.' Both a sharp critique and a graceful performance of the art of the possible, The Resurgence of the Real changes the way we think about living in the modern world." —Publishers Note

Who's reading this? Alexis Cohen

 
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RAIN OF GOLD

VICTOR VILLASENOR

"Novelist and screenwriter Villasenor recounts the adventures and struggles of three generations of his family in this earthy Mexican American saga. His father, Juan Salvador, who fled a Mexico torn by revolution, was imprisoned at the Arizona state penitentiary at age 12 for stealing $6 worth of ore from the mine where he worked. He escaped. The author's mother, Lupe, was born in an exploitative U.S.-run gold mine in Mexico, where her brother was narrowly saved from hanging by their gutsy mother, a Yaqui Indian. Juan and Lupe bought a pool hall in the barrio of Carlsbad, Calif., the year Prohibition ended. Villasenor is a born storyteller, and this Latino Roots, though marred at times by sentimentality and cliches, is a gripping, inspirational epic full of wild adventure, bootlegging, young love, miracles, tragedies, murder and triumph over cultural barriers." —Publishers Weekly

Who's reading this? Kyle Walenga

 
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THE TIGER: A true story of vengeance and survival

john vaillant

"John Vaillant's The Tiger is part natural history, part Russian history and part thriller; it tells a gripping and gory story of what it's like to stalk — and be stalked by — the largest species of cat still walking the Earth.

The most bio-diverse region in all of Russia lies on a chunk of land sandwiched between China and the Pacific Ocean. There, in Russia's Far East, subarctic animals — such as caribou and wolves — mingle with tigers and other species of the subtropics. It was very nearly a perfect habitat for the tigers — until humans showed up." —Morning Edition, NPR

Who's reading this? Kyle Walenga

 
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DESCHOOLING SOCIETY

Ivan illich

"Ivan Illich was one of the most visionary political and social thinkers of the twentieth century. Deschooling Society is his most radical and profound book. The book that brought Illich to public attention was Deschooling Society (1971), a critical discourse on education as practised in ‘modern’ economies. Full of detail on contemporary programs and concerns, the book remains as radical today as it was when first published. Giving examples of the ineffectual nature of institutionalized education, Illich posited self-directed education, supported by intentional social relations, in fluid informal arrangements." —Eco Books

Who's reading this? Gabriel Cohen

 
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THE DISORDERED MIND

ERIC R. KANDEL

"Eric R. Kandel, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his foundational research into memory storage in the brain, is one of the pioneers of modern brain science. His work continues to shape our understanding of how learning and memory work and to break down age-old barriers between the sciences and the arts.

In his seminal new book, The Disordered Mind, Kandel draws on a lifetime of pathbreaking research and the work of many other leading neuroscientists to take us on an unusual tour of the brain. He confronts one of the most difficult questions we face: How does our mind, our individual sense of self, emerge from the physical matter of the brain? The brain’s 86 billion neurons communicate with one another through very precise connections. But sometimes those connections are disrupted. The brain processes that give rise to our mind can become disordered, resulting in diseases such as autism, depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder. While these disruptions bring great suffering, they can also reveal the mysteries of how the brain produces our most fundamental experiences and capabilities—the very nature of what it means to be human. Studies of autism illuminate the neurological foundations of our social instincts; research into depression offers important insights on emotions and the integrity of the self; and paradigm-shifting work on addiction has led to a new understanding of the relationship between pleasure and willpower.

By studying disruptions to typical brain functioning and exploring their potential treatments, we will deepen our understanding of thought, feeling, behavior, memory, and creativity. Only then can we grapple with the big question of how billions of neurons generate consciousness itself." —Publisher’s Note

Who's reading this? Meinir Davies

 
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mother of all questions

rebecca solnit

"In a timely follow-up to her national bestseller Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit offers indispensable commentary on women who refuse to be silenced, misogynistic violence, the fragile masculinity of the literary canon, the gender binary, the recent history of rape jokes, and much more. In characteristic style, Solnit mixes humor, keen analysis, and powerful insight in these essays." —Publisher’s Note

Who's reading this? Alexis Cohen

 
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WHERE MEN WIN GLORY

JON KRAKAUER

"The story of Pat Tillman, the professional football player killed in Afghanistan in 2004, was simultaneously appalling and inspiring — which helped explain, perhaps, the mesmerizing grip it had on the United States. It showed America at its best and worst, at a time when the country was engaged in a deeply polarizing war. At the least, it had all the ingredients of a very good book.

Most everyone, at least in the United States, is familiar with the basic facts: Tillman, a free-thinking, hard-hitting safety for the Arizona Cardinals, walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract after 9/11 to enlist in the Army. He joined an elite unit, the Rangers, and was killed on April 22, 2004, in a canyon in eastern Afghanistan. The story did not end there: Tillman’s commanders and possibly officials in the Bush administration suppressed that he had been killed accidentally by his own comrades. They publicly lionized Tillman as a hero who died fighting the enemy and fed the phony account even to Tillman’s grieving family. The sordid truth, or most of it, came out later." —Dexter Filkins, The New York Times

Who's reading this? Kyle Walenga

 
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FLIGHT BEHAVIOR

BARBARA KINGSOLVER

"Barbara Kingsolver's commitment to literature promoting social justice runs so deep that in 1998 she established the Bellwether Prize (now the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction) to encourage it.

In the wrong hands, fiction written to convey urgent social messages is as tedious as a political harangue. But done well, it can be both eye-opening and moving: think Charles Dickens on children and poverty in Oliver Twist; Upton Sinclair on the meat-processing industry in The Jungle; Toni Morrison on the tolls of slavery in Beloved; E.L. Doctorow on the collateral damage of war in The March.

While Kingsolver's seventh novel, Flight Behavior, does not quite achieve the resonance of Morrison's and Doctorow's masterpieces, this is partly due to its inherently less dramatic material. What it shares with these books is an integration of important issues with engaging narrative that feels organic: A colony of butterflies and a young woman have both deviated from their optimal flight paths, a story Kingsolver uses to take on global warming and the high costs to society of grossly inadequate public school education, especially in the sciences." —Heller McAlpin, NPR

Who's reading this? Mary Rutz

 
 

Past Reads

THE CALIFORNIA FIELD ATLAS

WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED: OBI KAUFMANN

Destiny DISRUPTED: A HISTORY OF THE WORLD THROUGH ISLAMIC EYES

TAMIM ANSARY

FAUST

JOHANN WOLFGANG GOETHE

FAUST

IVAN TURGENEV

FReedom is a constant struggle: ferguson, palestine and the foundations of a movement

angela y. davis

A GARDEN TO DYE FOR

CHRIS MCLAUGHLIN

HOUSEKEEPING

MARILYNNE ROBINSON

A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Howard Zinn

The Scent of Time: A Philosophical Essay on the Art of Lingering

Byung-Chul Han, Daniel Steuer (Translator)

SCIENCE AND SPIRITUAL PRACTICES

RUPERT SHELDRAKE